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Petition supports sale of Ritchie

July 15, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - Sick of lawsuits and bickering over the proposed sale of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, more than 750 residents of Cascade and surrounding areas have signed a petition supporting the transaction.

The petition states that the delay in redeveloping the fort has affected the quality of life in the area.

"We need a revitalized Fort Ritchie now," the petition states.

Gary Muller, one of three area businessmen who started the petition, said Thursday that the base's closure has hurt local businesses and that lawsuits involving the base and the PenMar Development Corp. also have negatively affected business.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

The base largely has been vacant since that time, and PenMar has been involved in several lawsuits. One of the suits, by a former tenant, resulted in a federal judge issuing an injunction barring the transfer of the base from the Army to PenMar.

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As a result, PenMar cannot yet sell the base to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md. PenMar and COPT signed the sale agreement in July 2004 and have been waiting for the injunction to be lifted.

"It's gotten to the point where the people in Hagerstown are making fun ... and it's not funny," said Muller, who owns Flohr True Value Lumber Co. in nearby Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., with his wife, Lynn. "It's affected our businesses here ever since the fort was closed."

COPT plans to turn the base into a residential and business center and create more than 4,500 jobs over a 10- to 20-year period, according to the company's development plan.

Muller, along with businessmen Greg DeLauter and Roy Sanders, submitted the petition to the Washington County Commissioners at Tuesday's meeting.

"We're tired of the lawsuits," DeLauter told the County Commissioners.

The County Commissioners appoint the PenMar board of directors, which currently has several vacancies.

Muller said he hopes that, when filling the empty seats, the commissioners choose people "who recognize the community is ready to move on."

Muller said the petition, which was started June 18 and was available through July 6, was placed in six businesses. The businessmen did not go door-to-door or call residents for signatures, Muller said.

Muller said the number of signatures on the petition indicates a unified voice among many Cascade-area residents.

Muller said "99 percent" of the residents he has spoken with about the petition favored selling the base to COPT.

"I would say there are very, very few people who have objections," he said.

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